Before we explain why the distinction between the two matters, let’s start with the basics: what are soft and hard skills?
Soft skills are a loose collection of personality traits relating to how you conduct yourself around other people. It’s an umbrella term grouping together a wide array of characteristics, including work ethic, creative thinking, social graces, personal habits, and the like—all referring to the relationships with one’s colleagues in this context.
Hard skills, on the other hand, are quantifiable, acquired abilities that require specific knowledge and training to perform certain tasks. They need to be learned and can be clearly defined, making them essentially the formal requirements your candidate needs to meet in order to get hired.
The two types of skills often go hand in hand, but never more so than in the workplace. True, your developers are there because they have a job to do, but they’re also people who share the same space for a number of hours every day. How they get along with one another greatly influences the quality of their work, leading us to the key question:
A question frequently neglected, since the answer may appear obvious on the surface: of course it’s the hard skills, right? They’re the reason you hired somebody in the first place, what your developers need to know to do their jobs, why wouldn’t they be your top priority?
You may be surprised to learn that the seemingly obvious answer is actually the wrong one. Turns out, soft skills are more important than hard skills. Yes, really.
Of course you can’t hire someone for their soft skills alone; they need to be able to do their job and do it well—preferably very well. But strong hard skills are simply not enough, since they can be taught and honed, and in the long run, a severe shortage of soft skills could become a serious detriment to the whole team and consequently your company.
If you remain unconvinced, consider the following aspects to understand why soft skills are essential in your developers:
Communication skills make up a big, big part of soft skills, and for good reason. An uncommunicative developer is an uncooperative developer. If they’re excessively timid or withdrawn, they will not be a good fit for an environment that relies on teamwork and problem solving.
When new talent joins your team, you need to train them to some extent. It’s an investment—sometimes significant, though always smart and necessary. People are the most valuable resource, so the idea is to attract or mould professionals and keep them working for you.
However, imagine you’ve whipped your fresh developers into shape, but their insufficient soft skills make it impossible to work with them. What can you do? Nothing. You are forced to part ways, and all the precious time and money you’ve invested in their training goes to waste on your end.
We all know the saying, “The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.” The same is true for your development team.
Every individual on the team plays a role in making it what it is. A healthy and friendly work environment is a very fragile ecosystem, easily disturbed by a single developer who is a particularly poor fit. This is not an exaggeration: one “rotten apple” may be an influence bad enough to cause some of the other team members to leave.
Unfortunately, this can be difficult to spot before making the hire. STX Next has dealt with candidates who seemed like a good fit during the interview, but later, when they joined the team, it turned out that some of the other team members had worked with the new developer before and the experience had been an extremely unpleasant one.
You should watch out for any clear red flags, though sometimes there’s just no way to know before it’s already too late and the hire is made.
Teamwork comes with conflict; it’s unavoidable. Different people have different opinions, and the workplace is where they clash the most often. To avoid tension and friction, your developers need to be open to feedback, otherwise nothing will get done.
This is especially true in the software engineering community, due to peer review being very common—and very good—practice. Mistakes happen all the time, and it’s vital that your employees take constructive criticism in stride. They are all in this together and they need to be aware of it.
To top it all off, we have a highly elusive, but invaluable quality: respect. Respect for one’s superiors, but even more so for their subordinates.
It’s not surprising that your developers would be on their toes when addressing someone in a position of authority who can fire them. It is the way they treat those who can’t do much for them that makes for a truly civil and pleasant atmosphere in the workplace. After all, we are all people and deserve to be treated as such, even if we sometimes fall short of expectations. It’s important to have people on your team who understand that.
This post marks the end of our quadrilogy of articles on hiring software developers. Initially, we had planned on doing a trilogy of chapters to promote our brand new ebook on this very subject, but ultimately decided against it and ended up sharing this one extra installment with you.
We have given this matter separate consideration because we realize just how vital soft skills are—in your developers, as well as our own. Being a software house, we have one key reason why we pay extra attention to the soft skills of our candidates for software engineering positions: we know full well that our developers won’t just be working together, but also with our clients.
Our teams constantly join forces with our clients’ teams and adapt to the demands of new projects. Working this way, soft skills are an absolute must and a cornerstone of successful cooperation.
We pride ourselves on putting our best foot forward when it comes to client satisfaction. If you want to see for yourself how we’re doing on that front, simply visit our Portfolio.
And that’s a wrap on the subject of recruitment on our blog—at least for now. If you wish to learn everything you need to know about growing your software development teams, our ultimate guide to hiring software engineers is waiting for you.